The French government wants that its forthcoming coronavirus contact-tracing app be allowed to work in the background of iPhones without the use of the kind of privacy measures that the United States based Apple Inc is stressing.
The development was confirmed by the digital minister of the country in a television interview.
The new system that the French government is pushing will allow government authorities to gather more information about participating smartphone owners than extent to which Apple and its partner Google want to be accessible.
The case is being viewed as a test case by privacy experts.
“Apple has no reason to agree to this demand and it would open the door to many other requests from other countries and entities,” Prof Olivier Blazy from the country’s University of Limoges, said.
“As a Frenchman, I think it would be useful to avoid being dependent on the Google-Apple solution but I think it’s strange that the government strategy relies on trying to convince Apple to do something that is against its interest, with no incentive to do so.”
The development of a software building-block – known as an application programming interface (API) that will allow the more efficient functioning of authorized Covid-19 contact-tracing apps was announced jointly by Apple and Google on 10 April.
Covid-19 contact tracing apps function by logging each time two or more users get close to each other for a substantial period of time. The automated system of such apps can send an alert to those they could have infected in the case of one of the contact persons develop positive tests for the coronavirus infection. Those consequently traced could be asked to go into self isolation.
If there are enough users of such apps, it is possible, at least in theory, to be able to end wider lockdowns and still suppress the disease, by the use of such an app in combination with other measures.
Bluetooth signals to detect matches is the main feature of the method used by Apple and Google. The app has however seen deliberately so designed such that neither the companies nor the creator of the apps would be able to know who has been given a warning.
This is to guarantee “strong protections around user privacy”, the companies have said, which will encourage more adoption of such apps.
In contrast, a system of its own called Robert (robust and privacy-preserving proximity tracing protocol) has been developed by Inria – the French institute developing its StopCovid app. The details of the app were published on the code-sharing site Github on Sunday.
The document shows that there would be ways to “re-identify users or to infer their contact graphs” if desired even though the French government has pledged that people will adopt the app voluntarily and data will be anonymised.
“It’s a misnomer to call it a privacy-preserving protocol,” said University of Oxford computer scientist Prof Max van Kleek, who prefers the Apple-Google design.
“It does preserve privacy between users but not between the user and the government.
“And that leads to the risk that the government later repurposes the system to make sure that people obey a quarantine or other kinds of things the state might want to know.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)